Sunday, June 3, 2012

Thing Number Sixteen | Uniform

“You know, you look kind of cold and impersonal with your sunglasses on,” said Steve a few years ago, back when he was the RSP teacher at a single school and I was the SLP for multiple schools within the district. “I know,” I said, “That’s kind of why I wear them.” Now that he’s the RSP teacher for multiple schools within the district, he’s consistently sporting his sunglasses and looking, well, just a bit cold and impersonal.
I have a long history with sunglasses. My very first pair was white RayBan Wayfarers. My optometrist gave them to me with my very first pair of contact lenses, back when I was in eighth grade, and with them came his stern warning, “You must wear sunglasses whenever you’re outside to protect your eyes.” And, so, I did. If I had my contacts in and I was outside, then it was a sure bet my sunglasses were on. I loved them because they helped protect my eyes from wind-born debris. As anyone who’s ever gotten dust or an eyelash or, heaven forbid, a fiber in her contact-lens wearing eye can testify, it kills. Sunglasses reduced the risk of that kind of pain and I was all over that.

Later on, I realized that I looked a little cooler with sunglasses on. There were a host of 80’s movies that validated that assertion:  The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Can’t Buy Me Love, to name but a few. I wore my sunglasses between classes, at lunch, and while running cross country races. I am the only person I can remember who wore sunglasses while competing in cross country meets. I also noticed that photos of groups taken outside always included one person with his/her eyes shut but that person was never me because my eyes were hidden behind my shades. And, yeah, I was still rockin’ the white RayBan Wayfarers. I wore those until they got broken by a volleyball at youth group. RayBan had a lifetime guarantee, so I sent in my broken white Wayfarers and they sent back a pair of black Wayfarers, which were even cooler and which I wore until I bought my first pair of tortoiseshell Wayfarers which still might be my most favorite sunglasses ever.

When I got my first “real” job after college, I was working part-time as a Speech-Language-Hearing Specialist on an emergency credential while I got my master’s degree in speech-language pathology. I was 22 years old and I could easily pass for 16. Sunglasses gave me at least a little more gravitas than I naturally possessed, especially when paired with heels, a shirt dress, and hose. That said, I still got stopped by high school campus security once (in that exact outfit) and was asked why I was out of class.

Really? Really? Look around, do you see any self-respecting high school girl prancing around in a shirt dress, hose, and heels? I meekly explained my position to the officer, all the while glaring at him from behind my sunglasses, and went on my way.

Over time, sunglasses have become my uniform. They are part of my defense system. If I’m striding across campus to pick up a student for speech, my sunglasses help express that I’m busy and I have an important purpose. Seriously, this is a big deal. Speech sessions are generally 30 minutes long and if you stop me to chat, you are knocking time off a kid’s speech therapy. If you tell me that you put three new referrals in my box in the staff lounge and I’m wearing my sunglasses, you can’t see me scowl. Or, depending on the time of year, get a little teary. If you do manage to grab me en route to pick up a student, to discuss the fact that 5 year-old Susie is saying “wabbit” instead of “rabbit”, you can’t see me roll my eyes if they’re hidden behind my sunglasses.

Yeah, sunglasses. They are my uniform.

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